How to Spend One Day in Oaxaca (+Photos)

One of Mexico’s most endearing and picture-perfect destinations, Oaxaca has a certain charm that few other cities can compete with. Not only is Oaxaca incredibly pretty, but it’s also the country’s gastronomic capital, meaning the city is a feast for the eyes and your taste buds!

If you couldn’t already gather, Oaxaca is among my favourite spots in all of Mexico, which is quite a bold statement considering the country’s staggering array of travel destinations. Any of my fellow culture and culinary enthusiasts will fall in love with this southern Mexican city, the capital of its namesake state.

As much as I would have revelled in exploring Oaxaca over several days or a week, I was in somewhat of a time crunch during my visit, so I ensured I packed as much as possible into my limited time. As a result, I feel qualified to share a tried and tested itinerary for one day in Oaxaca based on my own action-packed trip to the city.

How to Get to Oaxaca

Bus to Oaxaca

Oaxaca is located in southern Mexico, around 460 km south of Mexico City. Due to its popularity amongst tourists, Oaxaca is well-connected to other Mexican cities, giving you a couple of options for getting here, including buses and flights to the city’s small airport.

I had spent a couple of days in Mexico City beforehand, so I opted to make the 7-hour journey by bus to reach Oaxaca. If you also choose to arrive by bus, your best option is to travel with ADO, one of Mexico’s most reputable coach companies. ADO buses depart from the TAPO bus terminal in Mexico City multiple times a day, and I opted to get the 8.00 a.m. service as I was keen to get there before dark.

The bus terminates at the ADO bus station a little outside of the centre, so you’ll need to use another method of transport to get into the city unless you don’t mind taking to the cobblestone streets with your luggage in tow!

If you’re keen on an authentic Mexican experience, as I was, make a left when you exit the bus station and take the next right. Here, you’ll notice people waiting for the local bus, which will take you to the centre of Oaxaca for just a few pesos.

Amble Around the Colourful and Colonial Streets

Colourful Street

After an early first night, I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the following morning, ready for an exciting day of explorations.

The first thing on my agenda was a leisurely stroll around the vibrant streets of Oaxaca to gaze at the adorable colonial buildings that the city is so synonymous with. Truth be told, I could have easily spent an entire day doing just that, as there are so many corners of the city to explore, most of which have perfectly retained their old-world allure.

My best advice for this aspect of your itinerary is to set off early with no plan for which areas you want to explore, as getting lost among the quaint streets is all part of the Oaxacan experience. No matter which pocket of the city centre you find yourself in, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be met with immaculately kept buildings that feature brightly-coloured facades and wrought iron balconies.

Many of these bewitching buildings now house local eateries, stylish cafes, and gorgeous bakeries, so be sure to allow some time to grab some breakfast along the way.

Explore the Incredible Street Art in Jalatlaco

Street Art

Not only is the architecture in Oaxaca a sight to behold, but the street art is arguably as impressive. There’s no place better than Jalatlaco to catch a glimpse of the work of the city’s immensely talented locals, where every street is more dazzling than the last.

Jalatlaco is a laidback neighbourhood in the west of the city, and a 20-minute walk outside the centre will take you to this area’s spellbinding streets. Much like my early-morning walk around the centre, I went to Jalatlaco with no plan other than to see where the street led me and what graffiti masterpieces I came across along the way.

Despite being the oldest and most charismatic district in Oaxaca, Jalatlaco is surprisingly quiet and somehow remains relatively underrated compared to other neighbourhoods. This is something I really loved about Jalatlaco, and I’m grateful I’ve made it here before the secret’s out!

The artwork here is nothing short of outstanding, and many of the pieces represent different aspects of Oaxaca’s turbulent history, indigenous culture, and community spirit. Here, you’ll spot poignant murals dedicated to students who died on their way to a protest for indigenous rights, quirky pieces telling the story of Oaxaca’s relationship with magic mushrooms, and works celebrating the famous Day of the Dead festival.

Sample Local Cuisine at Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

After a busy morning spent on your feet, you’ll surely have worked up quite the appetite. This calls for a visit to one of Oaxaca’s most bustling food markets, Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

Once here, your senses will go into overload with the dizzying assortment of eateries and stalls preparing homemade local delights. Tlayudas and tamales are some of the most revered dishes from the region, but mole is the most quintessential Oaxacan delicacy of them all. If you’ve yet to try this unique sauce, Mercado 20 de Noviembre is the perfect place to do just that.

You’ll have an endless selection of mole-serving stands to choose from here, and you’ll also notice that you have quite a number of mole styles to choose from. This sauce is made from a base of chilis, nuts, and spices, with each variation infused with a different blend of additional ingredients, one of them being chocolate.

As mole negro seemed to be the city’s most sought-after style of mole, I branched out and ordered this 30-ingredient sauce with chicken and rice. Smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet from the chocolate, mole negro has an acquired taste that you have to try at least once during your trip.

Admire the Magnificent Catholic Churches

Santo Domingo de Guzman

Before touching down in Oaxaca, I wasn’t prepared for the abundance of jaw-dropping churches that adorn the city. Perhaps I was too enthralled by the thoughts of diving into the local culinary scene or wandering the picturesque streets, but I was taken aback by the beauty of Oaxaca’s centuries-old cathedrals.

Conveniently, many of the churches are within easy reach of one another, and spending an hour or two sauntering between some of them is a pretty wonderful way to spend an afternoon. There are plenty of beautiful churches to check out, though there are a few that you cannot miss.

Oaxaca Church

First up, and my personal favourite, is the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán. Possibly the most famous place of worship in Oaxaca, the Templo de Santo Domingo is more like a complex than a church. This expansive structure has a stunning baroque facade, but the exquisite interior left me speechless.

Though not quite as lavish as the Templo de Santo Domingo, I found both the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral of Oaxaca and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad were also some of the stand-out spots of my trip.

Learn How Oaxacan Chocolate Is Made

Oaxacan Chocolate

I’m a sucker for anything sweet, so I, of course, had to allow time in my schedule for a visit to Chocolate Mayordomo De Oaxaca, the region’s best-known chocolate brand. With stores dotted all over the city, you’ll likely stumble upon a Chocolate Mayordomo branch with little to no effort.

Their location on the corner between 20 de Noviembre and Francisco Javier Mina is among their best, as it’s here where you can learn the method behind Chocolate Mayordomo’s traditional chocolate-making process.

Using just roasted cacao beans, sugar, cinnamon, and almonds, the chocolate here is primarily made for hot chocolate. While here, head to the back, and you’ll spot the staff grinding the cacao beans before mixing them with sugar. As you watch the team at work, you’ll find that the beauty of this chocolate is in its simplicity.

I highly recommend enjoying a cup of Oaxacan hot chocolate here if you have sufficient time on your hands, and you can also grab some of their premium individual chocolates to take home with you. In my case, these chocolates lasted only a short time after I’d left the store!

Spend an Evening at the Zócalo


After a non-stop day of ticking all the Oaxaca must-dos off my list, I snagged myself a seat on one of the tree-covered benches near the water fountain at the Zócalo and watched the world go by.

Also known as Plaza de la Constitución, the Zócalo is the main square in Oaxaca and is a lively meeting point for locals and visitors hoping to tuck into some tasty street food, listen to live music and do some people-watching.


Despite the midweek timing of my visit, the square was full of life and had this exuberant energy that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Having been struck by the vendors selling quirky trinkets and souvenirs, the groups of friends dancing under the fairy lights, and the never-ending line-up of buzzing restaurants, I couldn’t help but wonder what this place is like when the weekend rolls around.

The timing of my stay unfortunately didn’t align with any cultural or religious event, but ensure you keep up-to-date with Oaxaca’s upcoming festivals before your trip. From what I’ve learned during my Oaxacan sojourn, there’s nowhere quite like the Zócalo when celebrations are in session.

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